Surf school: 'It only takes one wave to change the rest of your life'

Surf school: 'It only takes one wave to change the rest of your life' »Play Video
Chase Gerby, a student at Newport High School, shreds the waves of the Oregon Coast during the "Oregon outdoors" program. The class was started seven years ago by Ollie Richardson, asistant athletic director at the high school, to provide students an opportunity to safey enjoy the natural beauty surrounding the town. Alan Sylvestre, Oregon News Lab

NEWPORT, Ore. — It’s a typical Friday morning at Newport High School, but this group of 15 students are not sitting in a classroom.

Instead, they’re out shredding the waves of the Oregon Coast.

These students are part of “Oregon Outdoors,” an elective created by three teachers at Newport High School to provide students with a hands-on, recreational learning opportunity that utilizes the outdoors surrounding Newport.

“We really wanted kids to be able to get out of the classroom and learn from being outside,” Ollie Richardson said. Richardson is the assistant athletic director at Newport High School and an instructor at Ossie’s Surf Shop. He teaches the surfing portion of the program.

Two to three times a week, Richardson takes the group to Agate Beach to teach them basic techniques about surfing. They load a bus at the high school and go to Ossie’s surf shop, where they rent equipment at a discounted price.

The students shred the waves for about an hour and a half alongside Richardson, who uses his background in professional surfing to give them proper instruction on form and water safety.

“What I preach in class is more about water safety,” Richardson said. “You need to be able to forecast the weather and go out at a time that meets your skill level.”

Those in the class feel they learn more from being out in the water than having their heads in a textbook. The water allows them to be at one with their state of mind and spend quality time with their peers.

“It’s like a completely different emotion than everything that I’ve ever tried before,” Giovanni Aquinardi, a foreign exchange student from Italy, said.

Many that participate in the program are first time surfers.

“Most of the kids that take this course say the same thing after they’re done,” Richardson said. “They say they never would have tried surfing if it were not for this course.”

Because of popular demand for the class, those that enroll are subject to the same restrictions as a student athlete. During class time, they produce projects about water safety. One failing grade and the student won’t be able to take the class anymore.

“It’s just like playing a sport. If you get a bad grade, you don’t get to play,” Richardson said. “If you get a failing grade in one of your other classes, you don’t get to go out surfing.”

For those that take the course, they create friendships that last well beyond the scope of the 9-week program.

“Being out there with everybody, all these friends, I’ve met new people, and we’ve connected through the program,” said Chase Gerby, Oregon Outdoors member.

While ensuring that those in the course are always safe, Richardson still encourages them to have fun out on the water. He does this by recounting his earliest surfing memory as he starts each class.

“At the beginning of each class, I tell the students the story of when I rode my first wave,” Richardson said. “I tell them it only takes one wave to change the rest of your life.”